For life science companies, putting a price on their most valuable resources – ideas, research, proposals and prototypes – can be difficult. Yet the need to protect these assets is critical to preserving a company’s overall value and its ability to move any research forward.
Since intellectual property often is a life science company’s primary asset and the one with the highest commercial importance, businesses need to develop a sustainable intellectual property strategy as soon as they can and ensure it is maintained, experts said.
Such a strategy always should be an integral part of a company’s business strategy and be based on the business model, according to Susanne Ås Sivborg, director-general of the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV).
“Life science companies invest huge amounts of resources in research and development and must have the possibility of regaining invested resources and reinvesting in future R&D,” she said. “Making strategic use of the available intellectual property rights’ systems is often crucial.”
Be clear about the objective
One way businesses can start is by reviewing their vision, said Tony Proctor, a patent attorney at Potter Clarkson, a UK and Sweden-based law firm that focuses on patent and trademark issues. “The most important thing is that companies are clear about their objectives, and their strategies for achieving them, at the outset,” noted Proctor. “If a piece of intellectual property does not support a company’s commercial objective, then it is just an expensive piece of paper. There has to be a balance between having a strategy that is both manageable in the short term and will support future commercial investment.”
Keep an open mind
Among the most challenging issues for any company is how to ensure that the strategy, intellectual assets and the business model are kept together and provide support for each other, added Ås Sivborg. “Another important question is whether to protect the assets, and if so when, how to do this, and in which countries.”
In terms of using intellectual assets and tools to create value, companies should consider some key resources from the R&D process, such as by implementing an invention-spotting process and encouraging employees to properly record results, including highlighting unexpected discoveries to add value, said Proctor. “[Take note of] anything that has a good result, no matter if it was expected by you,” he noted. “From a legal perspective, keep an open mind as to what could be patented and therefore provide value, and have a process to create that value.”
This can include weighing whether something would be better classified as a trade secret or if patent protection should be pursued. “If a patent won’t provide protection that can reliably impede competitors, its value may be limited, and commercially important information may be released without good reason,” Proctor added.
Protecting the company name
When it comes to branding, companies can create a brand around the end product or underlying technology, he continued. “Brands can have value; it can be linked to recognition of what a company offers. Even if the brand doesn’t relate to an end product itself, there can be value in identifying it based on components or services offered. For more established life science companies, people can associate them with an effective product, so there is value in protecting the company name.”
Because the life science sector covers such a broad spectrum – including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, methods of treatment and business models – branding concepts and sometimes also the way value is created varies among the different areas, according to Ås Sivborg. “Branding, can, for example, generally be much more important for medical devices than for pharmaceuticals,” she continued. “The life science area is also much more regulated, often with rules and regulations for each country, than many other areas and branding could be a real challenge especially for pharmaceuticals.”
Among the current challenges of safeguarding intellectual property is that many companies in technical fields, including the life sciences, now participate in collaborations and other ways of doing research, such as open innovation and open source concepts, according to Ås Sivborg. “These require much higher and broader knowledge and understanding of how to manage the intellectual assets.”
A good intellectual property advisor can tell businesses how to put in confidentiality agreements before entering into discussions with potential investors, Proctor said, while at the same time making sure companies have the right strategies, with the proper resources and systems in place, to protect their idea and make it attractive to investors.